Matthew House brings something to the table

Organization’s furniture bank provides those in need with free household goods

Do you ever think about how important furniture is to facilitating your family life?

Beds for you and your children to sleep in. Dining tables and chairs to eat meals together. Couches and recliners to gather for your favourite TV shows. Maybe you’ve never considered it. In this part of the world, it’s easy to take something like basic furniture for granted.

But if you’ve come to Canada as a refugee, chances are you didn’t come with a sofa strapped to your back. You could probably use some help.

That’s where Matthew House Ottawa comes in. A big part of this organization is its furniture bank, which provides refugees and others in need with a range of household goods, free of charge.

“You may have a family who’ve just come into Canada,” says David Botha, program director for Matthew House’s furniture bank. “They’ve lost everything and need furniture and the kids are sleeping on the floor, they don’t have a table and chairs to eat at, or they don’t have a living room to enjoy family time.

“For children growing up in that environment where they don’t have anything, it’s very uncomfortable for them and it doesn’t give them much hope. So just giving them those basic comforts is pertinent to developing a good family relationship and family dynamics.”

The furniture bank, located at 340 Legget Dr. in the Kanata tech sector, is one of the two main parts of Matthew House, the other being a refugee services office and residence at 380 Centrepointe Dr. in Nepean. In 2012, the former Furniture Bank of Ottawa amalgamated with Matthew House.

“There was always a connection between the two organizations, although separate,” Botha says, noting that those who sought refugee services would often be referred to the furniture bank once they secured a stable housing situation.

The Matthew House residence can accommodate up to eight people at a time and tends to be used by refugee claimants without families or children because of its limited capacity.

But for people like former Burundian refugee Adrien Habonimana, who stayed at the Matthew House residence for three months in 2016 while his wife and five children waited in Rwanda for him to secure permanent residency in Canada, it can fill an emotional void. He has fond memories of his time there, where residents eat and socialize together — essentially, like family.

“They treated me like I was family,” Habonimana says. “That’s what I liked about it.”

Botha says many of those who use the refugee services then volunteer at the furniture bank.

“That’s where we’re giving them the opportunity to get an experience of working in Canada and also connecting with different people, and also just getting a general feel of the Canadian culture of giving back and stuff like that.”

Besides providing shelter for refugee claimants, Matthew House helps them connect with things like health and legal services, and generally supports them as they transition to a new life in Canada, says Stephen Porter, program manager for the organization’s refugee services.

“The capacity of each of these individuals to adjust to these new circumstances really varies quite a bit,” Porter says.